Efforts to address emergency room issues

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the average wait time in an emergency room in the U.S. is 30 minutes. Money is being sought that could help reduce that time in Meridian, and make primary healthcare more readily available for locals.

According to research, a number of people who are seeking medical treatment in emergency rooms in Meridian don't need to be there.

"Some of the people were doing it because it was their habit. It was convenient. It was open when they wanted to go," said Casey Henderson, interim director for the Community Health Improvement Network, a local group formally established about three months ago through the Meridian-based Montgomery Institute.

"We found that some people didn't have transportation and if they called the ambulance, it would take them to the emergency room, but they couldn't really say, 'Hey, I need to go to the clinic instead,'" says Henderson.

Here's a gauge of how big the issue is in Meridian. A survey of the two hospitals here revealed that within roughly a 10-month period, an entire month's worth of patients, who were served in one of the emergency rooms, did not necessarily need emergency care.

This ultimately leads to a loss in federal reimbursements for hospitals that can reach into the millions.

Henderson says this issue is not confined to Meridian, but is a national concern. That's why the newly founded network is modeling its efforts to address the matter after a similar initiative in Jackson.

"In Jackson the University Medical Center saved $1 million in the first 7 months of operating their program," says Henderson.

The board of directors for the network in Meridian consists of administrators from the two local hospitals, others from local clinics, health education programs and the Meridian Housing Authority. The group is now asking the city of Meridian for $25,000. If approved, that money will be used to solicit more grant money to address emergency room concerns, and to help connect locals with the primary healthcare providers like those at Greater Meridian Health Clinic.

"It will be better for the patient because they will have that primary care relationship and get the regular treatment that they need," says Henderson.

The city council is expected to vote on the network's request at its Oct. 17 meeting.

According to information from the Health Resources and Services Administration, over 295,000 people were treated at federally qualified health-care centers in Mississippi last year. Of those, 91% were at or below 200% of the poverty rate.

Greater Meridian Health Clinic is a federally qualified healthcare center. Last year, it treated 11,714 patients. Numbers reveal that 91.2% of those patients were at or below 100% of the poverty rate.